Charles Siskin: A Most Misunderstood Vegetable

  • Monday, November 13, 2023
  • Charles Siskin

I am not sure why many people aren’t lovers as much as I am of eggplant. Could be the shape or maybe it is the dark purple skin that doesn’t make you smile like happy yellow, green and red peppers? Personally I find it to be very versatile as veggies go.

Among other uses, it makes a great dip. Some call it Cowboy Caviar; however I just can’t picture a bunch of cowboys sitting around the campfire munching on either eggplant or caviar unless they are on Brokeback Mountain.

Several years ago while on our way to Cape Cod, we stopped overnight in Boston and found our way to the Italian Section nearby our hotel. This little hole-in-the-wall storefront restaurant had an exceptional interpretation of Eggplant Parmesan. Of course the ambience and the exceptional wine, a -Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, helped as well.

Not only was the eggplant cooked correctly the sauce that accompanied it was worth a serious shout out. Okay, I didn’t but if I finished off that bottle of wine I could have and probably ended a perfect good marriage as well.

Once on a trip to Haiti, many years ago, I stayed in Pétion-Ville a suburb of Port-au-Prince at a Hotel called Ibo Lele. I recall their signature dish was a Creole eggplant that I remember to this day fifty (50+) years later. The owner, a very gracious lady, gave me the recipe which I treasure and will make it for very special friends who enjoy eggplant.and a good Italian red wine.

Wherever we traveled, my bride and I have always found one dish that I thought deserved to be recreated in my own home. Sometime it went well and other times I wanted to step off a bus and get hit by oncoming traffic. Well maybe not traffic but perhaps a small child on a scoter.

Lately every time I pick up a magazine or fashion section of a newspaper immediately I read about so and so “Influencer”. Now I will tell you the only influencer I knew was my Mother who in my opinion was over the top. She wasn”t recognized in the fashion mags but among her peers she was towards the top and climbing fast.

When it came to food she knew how to cook a pot roast until it screamed for mercy. My father loved it and I have remarked in later years how I survived without a cholesterol count that set new medical records. When I see that very plump lady emerge from a bus singing about how she brought her cholesterol level down with some sort of miracle drug and dance with an entire chorus line about it, I even cut out sugar free ice cream.

Please note that there are a number of colors of eggplants including lavender (Sicilian) and Graffiti (white) There is also a Oriental which is one of my favorites. It’s a skinny version (probably from North Korea) but not bitter like some of its counterparts. It slices up into small coins and is easy to sauté and mix with other vegetable.

Whatever you choose, next time you see beautiful purple or white or lavender eggplants (no Barbie, none in pink) don’t hesitate to buy and take home and if nothing else cook some for yourself or plunge right in and make for the family. Who knows your entire family might want to hop a bus. Be sure it’s a local!

Haitian Eggplant

Basic White Sauce

1 cup ½ and 1/2

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons white flour

Note: Depending on the size of the eggplant you might want to double the recipe

Melt butter add flour and whisk to incorporate

Add ½ and ½ and continue to whisk until smooth (don’t let it burn)

Set aside

Peel and slice small eggplant into rounds then put into non-corrosive bowl

Add 2 tablespoons kosher salt and toss with eggplant

Put plate or some heavy object on top of eggplant and let stand for at least ½ hour or longer

Drain and squeeze dry

Slice one small sweet onion into rings

Heat oil in fry pan and add eggplant pieces along with rings of Vidalia onions or sweet onion. Cook until eggplant and onions are cooked through.

Note: Eggplant absorbs a good bit of oil so be judicious about amount you use otherwise you will have a casserole that fairly swims in oil

Slice two firm tomatoes and to layer on top of eggplant and onions

Pour small amount of white sauce into a casserole dish then add eggplant, tomatoes and onions then pour in more white sauce and another layer of eggplant, tomatoes and onions and finish with more white sauce

Wrap top of casserole in aluminum foil and place in a water bath and cook at 350 to start then lower to 325 and cook until casserole bubbles. Let rest before serving.

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